With late flurry of picks, BYU caps off its most successful NFL draft in nearly 20 years
Fantastic season pays dividends as BYU gets five players drafted, including three in the last 10 picks on Saturday
At about the same time the Kentucky Derby was wrapping up Saturday afternoon with an exciting four-horse finish, the BYU football program was getting a good jolt of its own.
Talk about nailing the ending.
With just 10 picks remaining in the 2021 NFL draft, BYU was stuck on two players — Zach Wilson in the first round to the New York Jets and Brady Christensen in the third round to the Carolina Panthers.
Then fortune smiled upon coach Kalani Sitake’s program just when it appeared it would be another mildly disappointing draft for the Cougars.
With pick No. 250, the Chicago Bears took massive defensive tackle Khyiris Tonga. Up next, the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers took cornerback Chris Wilcox with pick No. 251.
The Washington Football Team had the penultimate pick and tabbed BYU receiver Dax Milne at No. 258 in the seventh round.
That huge sigh of relief could be heard from Provo to Cleveland, site of the 86th NFL draft. BYU’s much-hyped draft class had delivered, at last.
Five is tied for the most draft picks BYU has had in a seven-round draft in program history.
Five BYU players were drafted in the 2021 NFL Draft—the most since 2002—as defensive lineman Khyiris Tonga, cornerback Chris Wilcox and wide receiver Dax Milne each had his name called in the seventh round on Saturday.— BYU Cougars PR (@BYUCougarsPR) May 2, 2021
More ➡️ https://t.co/4rjGHaIGtf#BYUFootball #2021NFLDraft pic.twitter.com/A9zWJGkUzh
Had productive tight end Matt Bushman not sustained a season-ending Achilles injury in late August, the Cougars almost certainly would have had six players drafted. Moments after the draft ended, Bushman reportedly signed a free agent deal with the Las Vegas Raiders, one of the teams that had given him an extensive physical last month.
Linebacker Isaiah Kaufusi (Indianapolis Colts), safeties Zayne Anderson (Kansas City Chiefs) and Troy Warner (Los Angeles Rams), defensive lineman Zac Dawe (Atlanta Falcons) and offensive linemen Chandon Herring (Tennessee Titans) and Tristen Hoge (New York Jets) had reportedly inked undrafted free agent deals within an hour of the draft ending.
If at least half of these guys end up sticking in the league, BYU’s class of 2020 could easily be called one of the best in school history.
For many, it was especially cool to see Wilcox become the first BYU defensive back to be drafted in 28 years.
The late flurry helped BYU match the output of three Pac-12 schools — Oregon, USC and Stanford each had five players drafted — and beat programs such as Washington (four) and UCLA (two). Of course, in-state rival Utah, which usually thumps BYU soundly when it comes to draft picks, didn’t have any players selected because all of the Utes’ top guys are returning to school for the 2021 season.
Perhaps no Cougar was smiling more Saturday night, however, than Milne, who chose to forgo his senior season after a brilliant junior year and bet on himself for the second time.
Chris Trapasso of CBS Sports called Milne “the Hunter Renfrow of this class,” a nod to the former Clemson slot receiver.
Milne had 70 catches for 1,188 yards and eight touchdowns in 2020.
“Obviously, this is the basket I am putting all my eggs into right now, into this basket of going to the NFL,” Milne told the Deseret News last week. “It just motivates me to do everything I can to make sure I can fulfill that dream of being able to provide for my mom and my dad. They have sacrificed a ton for me to get me into this position. They have always believed in me, that I could do this, ever since I was a little 8-year-old kid playing tackle football.”
Wilcox was the only Cougar who opted out of the Boca Raton Bowl, so his late selection also came as a bit of relief for the 2020 graduate who battled injuries throughout his career. He’s the first BYU cornerback to be taken since Brian Mitchell in 1991.
Wilcox is a bigger corner, at 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds, but ran a 4.31-second 40 at pro day and posted a 37.5-inch vertical.
Tonga, listed at 6-2 and 325 pounds, is in a good spot to make the Bears’ roster because the Monsters of the Midway don’t have a lot of good defensive tackles right now.
At pro day, Tonga, who is from Granger High School, said he would prefer to play in a warm weather locale after training for three months in Florida. But seventh-round picks can’t afford to be choosy, obviously, and it will be interesting to see how he fares with the Bears.
In Jim McMahon’s days in Chicago, the Bears would often employ mammoth defensive tackle William “The Refrigerator” Perry in the backfield and give him the football in goal-line situations. Maybe Tonga, who rushed for a TD at BYU, can reprise that role.